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Consumer Watchdog has posted 181 diaries on Daily Kos since 2010.  These diaries are almost always dump-and-run jobs with very rare interaction.  It is obvious that their diaries are professionally written PR pieces which pull at the heartstrings or appeal to one's sense of fairness and social justice.  

Their recent diary attacking Planned Parenthood ("I Support Planned Parenthood, Why Isn't Planned Parenthood Supporting Women?") was so controversial that it caused many Kossacks to start asking questions about this organization.  As a result, a new Group has formed called Consumer Watchdog is Neither and this diary is the second installment on our inquiry.

The first diary was called Consumer Watchdog Peddles its Wares on DK, but Are They Legit?"  Questions were raised about the lack of transparency in Consumer Watchdog's financing, their very ample income from lobbying and their lucrative service as "intervenors" before the State of California on insurance matters.   The picture is muddled to say the least.  

So follow me below the orange doodad as we try to "unmuddle" the picture and shine a bit of light on Consumer Watchdog.  The ultimate questions are "What are they doing here?  Are they spamming us with PR that has been paid for by unnamed parties? Are they working in their own self interest or are they working for some higher purpose? Should we welcome such users and provide them with an audience for their work?  Are we being played?"

Consumer Watchdog  got its start with the campaign for insurance regulation (Prop 103) in California.  Harvey Rosenfield, the founder, is a former colleague of Ralph Nader who has worked on various topics such as campaign finance and nuclear proliferation.  Rosenfield's  portfolio of causes reads like a progressive's perfect wish-list.   Clearly, this is an outfit that fights for the little guy and stands up to big intrusive government and predatory corporations.  When you read about their work, you want to stand up and cheer.

And yet....

One of the reasons Consumer Watchdog has become a magnet for criticism is that they receive millions of dollars in "intervenor fees," which are fees that they charge for intervening in insurance rate reviews before California's Insurance Commission.  The intervenor provision was written into Prop 103 by Consumer Watchdog and they have been profiting from it very handsomely ever since.  According to one of their most vocal detractors, Steven Maviglio of Consumerwatchdogwatch.com, Consumer Watchdog "rakes in millions of dollars for itself from a self-serving "intervenor fee" provision it inserted into a ballot initiative."

The California Department of Insurance estimates that 70% of all intervenor compensation goes to Consumer Watchdog.  In 2012,  Consumer Watchdog was the only intervenor to receive any payments and these were substantial: $779,812.75.  

A year-by-year accounting of the intervenor fees paid to Consumer Watchdog and others can be found here.

They are presently at work on another ballot proposition which will do to health insurance what they did for homeowners and car insurance and at the same time carve out a new hunk of lucrative business for themselves as "intervenors."  

A consumer group that has reaped millions of dollars in fees from insurance companies thanks to a state initiative it wrote is facing a new wave of criticism from Democratic and Republican political consultants and lawmakers.
Critics note that the advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog, profits from the special insurance regulation process it not only created, but dominates. The consultants argue that the group is trying once again to use a ballot initiative to generate more revenue.
Californiawatch.org
So why does this matter?  After all, if you believe Consumer Watchdog, Prop 103 has  
saved consumers billions of dollars since it was passed in 2003.   It should also be noted that the California Department of Insurance views the intervenor process as very valuable.

But here is a question for pondering:  Is it proper to be skeptical of an organization that advocates for a ballot measure when said organization stands to profit handsomely from said measure?  Does this detract from the credibility of Consumer Watchdog when they post diaries here?   Some of their advocacy is for legislation that is not connected to "intervenor" fees, but is supported by various groups and donors who often remain anonymous.   We will be looking at this troublesome aspect in the future, for sure.  We will also be looking at some of the generous incomes of Consumer Watchdog staff.

Who was that sage person who said "Follow the money?"  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for being on top of this. (7+ / 0-)

    Look forward to more reports.

    We are all in this together.

    by htowngenie on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 06:10:18 PM PDT

  •  At some point it would be helpful if the site (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pgm 01, mint julep, WakeUpNeo, highacidity

    admins would look at the contributions of this group.  Are they posting in self-interest or in good faith?  Should they be required to add a disclaimer?

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 06:25:49 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for bringing this to our notice ... (4+ / 0-)

    but I had not really paid attention to them.  I rarely read things from professional groups like Ring of Fire and this outfit. If they can't stick around to answer and comment, then I don't read them.  The value of this site (for me) is the interaction and the exchange of ideas. I don't like to have people preach at me or tug at my heartstrings and then ask for money.

    Maybe this is one time that my laziness has paid off.

    "I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night." Greg Martin, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida

    by CorinaR on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 06:41:22 PM PDT

  •  This is a call-out diary. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grover, denise b, Larsstephens
    "Calling out" other site users by name in diary titles is prohibited.
    from the FAQs.

    I'm curious as to your motive in mounting this crusade, because it all seems to start with the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act and CW asking why PP doesn't support it.  Do you support it?  Why or why not?  Do you have a problem with consumer advocate groups raising money to meet their costs,  especially if the insurance companies pay?  Do you really think 8 hundred thou for a year's legal costs from the State in '12 was some kind of scam?  How many separate cases does that represent?   Is Planned Parenthood above question?   Do you feel it is fair for medical-malpractice victims to be adequately compensated, which seems to be the intent of the legislation in question?   Why is it relevant to point out the the founder of CW is a former colleague of Ralph Nader?

    You called out a Trusted User;  I fail to see why.

    don't always believe what you think

    by claude on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 09:22:56 PM PDT

    •  There's always been an exception.... (4+ / 0-)

      ...to the "call out" rule for public figures and organizations.

      If that exception weren't in place, nobody could write pieces calling out this Daily Kos user in the title.

      As a public organization, Consumer Watchdog isn't covered by the "call out" rule.

      "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

      by JamesGG on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 09:49:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wow, that guy has not been active in almost (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dennis1958

        8 years and still has two bars of mojo.

        Is that usual?

        (just saying, it almost seems he's receiving special treatment w/o knowing of any extenuating circumstances, etc).

        •  Looking at a few other accounts... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Roadbed Guy

          ...that had good mojo but have been abandoned for a while, I don't think that holding two bars of mojo is all that unusual.

          Two bars seems to be the "default" for users who were TUs but who have gone inactive... the only one-bar users I've seen are people who are either (a) on really thin ice hovering just above bojo, or (b) new users or users whose accounts were never very active.

          "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

          by JamesGG on Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 05:42:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  rec'ed for first chuckle of the morning. ty. n/t (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Roadbed Guy
    •  Really? A call out diary? (3+ / 0-)

      Consumer Watchdog is not a person.  It is a large lobbying shop that crusades for various causes and gets quite well paid for their work, or so it seems.  They drop their press releases here and then drop the same ones on other blogs and then leave without engaging.   That does not seem to be acting in very good faith as "Trusted Users."

      As for the Patient Safety Act (aka malpractice reform which would raise the limits on payments to injured patients),  I have mixed feelings about it.  I think the cap on malpractice awards has been good for California, but I also think it hasn't been raised for a long time.  However, I see no reason for Planned Parenthood to be the subject of scathing commentary by Consumer Watchdog because they don't support this bill.  

      I can't answer all the questions you raised in your comment because it is too late.  I will come back in the morning and try to pick up the loose ends.  Let me just say that the details of the payments received in 2012 are linked here and I will have to go back and look up how many cases are involved.  You could check the links as well if you are interested.  

      As for mentioning Ralph Nader, I included it to give an idea of Rosenfield's bona fides.  He has a very solid background as a consumer advocate.  

      Do I have a problem with consumer advocates raising money to meet their costs?  Indeed no.  But I'd like to know where the money comes from.  I'd like to know if the legislation they are advertising also gives them a cut of the action via "intervenor" fees.  It is a matter of transparency and being an honest broker.  

      It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

      by Radiowalla on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 10:38:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  RadioW, I do appreciate your reasonable (0+ / 0-)

        response.

        don't always believe what you think

        by claude on Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 06:26:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I forgot to mention in my reply (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          claude

          about the "Patient Safety Act" that there are very draconian provisions about drug testing of physicians.  Another Kossack, wilderness voice, addressed that issue somewhat in the first diary:

          requires mandatory random drug testing of doctors, requires doctors to inform on each other, and automatic suspension from practice upon test failure, pending a bureaucratic investigation, regardless of whether the doctor in question was taking painkillers for, say, a recent root canal.  Trying to capitalize on the failed war on drugs hysteria is hardly a progressive agenda.  

          In future diaries I expect this concern will be discussed further.

           

          It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

          by Radiowalla on Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 09:25:18 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  my partner works in (0+ / 0-)

            healthcare and I can tell you that medical professionals getting into  substance abuse situations is an actual issue.  In our State,  there is an established process that is fairly humane and does get the afflicted either treated and clean,  or out.  I don't know how Cali handles it so I can't tell if the proposed measures are "Draconian" or merely necessary.  Like most professions,  the med one tends to circle the wagons to protect their own and sometimes that needs to be challenged.

            It would be far better for themselves if the Ca Medical Assoc,  or whatever the Doctors' organization is called, could get it together to diligently self-police against substance abuse, colleague abuse  and general incompetence, rather than have the State force it on them.

            Alas, they prolly Republicans, and just can't see that big.

            don't always believe what you think

            by claude on Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 08:17:19 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It is indeed an issue (0+ / 0-)

              and a difficult one.  I have seen it up close and personal because this is my field as well.  I do not, however, follow it carefully any more.  The Medical Board of California had a diversion program that was not very effective and they stopped it in 2007, I think. But they do discipline impaired physicians and weed them out although the process is unwieldy.  The Board of Registered Nursing does have a diversion program.  

              I am hoping that someone from the Group will write more specifically on the drug testing provisions of the bill that Consumer Watchdog is supporting.  Apparently, the provision

              requires mandatory random drug testing of doctors, requires doctors to inform on each other, and automatic suspension from practice upon test failure, pending a bureaucratic investigation, regardless of whether the doctor in question was taking painkillers for, say, a recent root canal.
              Link

              It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

              by Radiowalla on Sat Aug 24, 2013 at 09:14:15 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Well (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grover

    I clicked on ConsumerWatchdogWatch.com and it says "Paid for by Forza Communications". Lots of accusations about who is behind ConsumerWatchdog but completely silent about itself. Is there a ConsumerWatchdogWatchWatch?

    If you write more about this I will read it, but I see nothing outraging me yet.

    We decided to move the center farther to the right by starting the whole debate from a far-right position to begin with. - Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

    by denise b on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 09:36:05 PM PDT

    •  You noticed that, too. (0+ / 0-)

      In the first diary about Consumer Watchdog that was mentioned.  We don't in fact know who is funding Forza Communications and that's a problem.  But they aren't posting here.  They don't drop diaries here on a regular basis and expect to be heard.  

      But here's some info for starters:
      http://www.camajorityreport.com/...

      Steve Maviglio is the principal of Forza Communications, a Sacramento-based public affairs/campaign firm. He was formerly Deputy Chief of Staff for two history-making California Assembly Speakers, Karen Bass and Fabian Nunez, where he provided strategic communication and political advice to the Speaker and the Assembly Democratic Caucus. Capitol Weekly recently named him one of the most powerful staffers in the Capitol.
      Steve has been working in political communications and campaigns for more than 25 years. He was Deputy Chief of Staff for Speaker Fabian Nunez, and during the 2006 campaign, he was a spokesperson for the California Democratic Party. During 2005, he was a strategist for the Alliance for a Better California, which defeated all of Governor Schwarzenegger's initiatives in the 2005 Special Election.
      Previously, he was Press Secretary for three years for Governor Gray Davis, serving as his chief spokesperson.
      Prior to moving to California, he worked on Capitol Hill as Administrative Assistant to Congressman Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and was the Executive Director of the House Democratic Caucus under Congressman Vic Fazio (D-Calif.).
      Steve also served in the Clinton Administration, directing public affairs for the U.S. Trade and Development Agency as well as the Dept. of Justice's "COPS" program.

      It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

      by Radiowalla on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 10:46:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ok. He's on record as a Dem. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        doinaheckuvanutjob

        But now he works for profit.

        He has clients, and we don't know who is clients are.  

        You've said a couple times that Forza Communications doesn't drop diaries on us. That's true enough.

        But you use its site as a source. It clearly has a bias, but no transparency. How can we possibly evaluate its credibility?

        We can't.

        © grover


        So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

        by grover on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 11:03:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is an issue, to be sure. (0+ / 0-)

          That is why we should be looking more carefully at lobbying groups that post here.  Are they giving us an unvarnished view of the facts or are they skewing their language and their arguments to fit the point of view they are paid to represent?Forza may or may not be paid to go after Consumer Watchdog.
          But we don't know who pays Consumer Watchdog either when they lobby for the many causes they take on.  

          I have read in various places that they are on the payroll of the Trial Lawyers Ass'n, but I don't have confirmation of that.  That would certainly explain their support for the so-called "Patient Safety Act."

          It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

          by Radiowalla on Fri Aug 23, 2013 at 07:34:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  sure you can (0+ / 0-)

          simply search elsewhere to confirm their allegations.

  •  Um, (0+ / 0-)
    Is it proper to be skeptical of an organization that advocates for a ballot measure when said organization stands to profit handsomely from said measure?  
    This is often how it's done.

    Let's look at CA Prop 37, labeling of GMO foods, which recently was on the ballot:

    Who's Behind It?
    According to the committees backing it, Prop 37 got its start when Pamm Larry, a "grandmother from Chico," woke up and decided it was her duty to lead the grassroots effort to make labeling of genetically modified foods a reality. Since then, a swarm of individual small donors have joined the cause, enough to attract the attention and support of big-money backers like Dr. Joseph Mercola, who runs a popular alternative health website. Other major donors include:

        Organic Consumers Fund
        Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps
        Nature's Path Foods
        Lundberg Family Farms

    MERCOLA        $1,115,000.00
    ORGANIC CONSUMERS FUND            $1,034,639.25
    KENT WHEALY            $1,000,000.00
    NATURE'S PATH FOODS U.S.A. INC.          $610,709.21
    THE STILLONGER TRUST, MARK SQUIRE TRUSTEE    INVESTMENTS    $440,000.00
    DR. BRONNER'S MAGIC SOAPS             $369,882.70
    WEHAH FARM, INC., DBA LUNDBERG FAMILY FARMS    $251,000.00

    etc.   

    edited for readability

    http://www.kcet.org/...

    Those organic products manufacturers (and investors in those companies) would prosper if the initiative got on the ballot and passed.

    There are very few "pure" grassroots ballot measures in CA, or WA, or I'd venture anywhere.

    I don't understand why you're so outraged. Corporations do this all the time.

    I don't have an opinion about Consumer Watchdog really.

    But I think it's very strange that you're going so hard after a group that intervenes on behalf of citizens.

    Prop 103, FWIW, stopped redlining, created accountability, and forced insurers to have to answer to policyholders and to regulators.

    Yes, there are numerous factors that contribute to WHY insurance premiums rates could fall -- including seatbelt laws, airbags, tougher DUI laws, Moradi-Shalal--  but the fact is that California insurance premiums were escalating at a ridiculous rate and were the highest in the country.  After Prop 103, they became in line with the rest of the nation.

    It's not like suddenly, we were the only ones to have new seatbelt and DUI laws, fancy cars with airbags and crumple zones. While we can't prove causation, we can certainly look at our auto and homeowner bills and see that they're the same or not much higher than they were 20 years ago.

    Prop 103 and years of intervening have allowed citizens to buy insurance, have allowed carriers to make reasonable profits, and sure, have allowed intervenors to earn some fees.

    Although she bugs the heck out of me for a lot of reasons, DiFi has affiliated with them. It might be worth calling her office and asking them for their impressions or even a statement.

    My preference? If you think that Consumer Watchdog needs to answer questions, why don't you ask them to explain themselves?

    This just feels like a hit piece. As I've said repeatedly, I don't like the way CW drops diaries, and I don't agree with some of their priorities. But I'm not at all comfortable with your diary either. For one thing, the name of your group makes me feel that you have a strong bias and that you're not actually seeking answers,

    If you do already have the truth wrapped up that CW is bad news for this site, then it seems to me that  diaries are the wrong venue for this; you really should be talking directly to admin.

    So those are my impressions, whatever they're worth. .

    © grover


    So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

    by grover on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 10:44:53 PM PDT

    •  Its a question of transparency. (3+ / 0-)

      When we are presented with arguments for a ballot measure we like to know if the entity making the argument has a financial interest in the outcome.

      Simple as that.

      The name of the group certainly does indicate a position and I would not be against changing it, but that would be up to the Group admin.   I will ask about it.  

      I'm running out of steam tonight and will try to address the rest of your questions in the morning.  

      It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

      by Radiowalla on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 10:57:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Radiowalla

        You don't need to go through my comment point by point. I was mostly just making a bunch of observations.

        I would like to address this comment though:

        Its a question of transparency.

        When we are presented with arguments for a ballot measure we like to know if the entity making the argument has a financial interest in the outcome.

        And I'll give you two links:

        CA DOI Intervenor Compensation year by year

        Consumer Watchdog/Feinstein introduce healthcare intervenor system

        Right there. It's all right there. No one is trying to hide anything. Maybe they're not issuing a press release saying "we're going to make several hundred thousand dollars a year on this."  But they're hardly trying to hide it.

        Or if they are trying to hide it, they're doing a terrible job.

        Consumer Watchdog says there will be intervenors like there have been in the past. DOI's webpage says here's who they are, and here's what we paid them.

        I'd pay for that kind of transparency in the rest of government.

        Honestly, Radiowalla. I admire the heck out of you usually. But I just don't understand where you're going with this. I didn't like their Planned Parenthood diary either. For one thing, they were just tone deaf posting it here.  

        But I dunno. There must be something I'm missing here.

        Anyhow. I pointed out my impressions. Take them for what they're worth. We don't need to duke it out. I'm standing down. Get a good night sleep. Ok?

        I'll see you elsewhere around these orange halls. Maybe the food court.

        :)  

        © grover


        So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

        by grover on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 11:21:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I quite frankly don't under the "intervenor" syste (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Radiowalla

        but by perusing a few easy to google links the entire process looks to way off base.

        i.e., just why are private advocacy firms given such a large role in law/regulation setting in the country?  I know many on this site cry bloody murder when the likes of ALEC are involved in this - to be consistent and principled it would seem to me that we should be equally outraged by this.

        But OTOH maybe the biggest problem with progressive is that they do tend to be consistent and principled.  That's no way to win!

    •  As was pointed out, they post hit and run (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Radiowalla

      diaries so this isn't really an option:

      My preference? If you think that Consumer Watchdog needs to answer questions, why don't you ask them to explain themselves?
      And I suppose it's they type of citizens that the group promarily benefits that makes this iffy:
      But I think it's very strange that you're going so hard after a group that intervenes on behalf of citizens.
      (i..e, it seems that the "citizens" who mostly benefits are the lawyers involved in the lawsuits, often to the determent of most citizens out there.

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